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Your BMW is the Answer to Grid Instability

Sarah Battaglia's picture
, NRG Business
  • Member since 2018
  • 83 items added with 102,123 views
  • Jan 10, 2015

bmw grid

Electric vehicles are being introduced with all the bells and whistles: impeccable safety features, back-up cameras, autopilot, and of course, remarkable efficiency.  But there is one additional feature that will not only impress your friends, it will help to renovate the modern electric grid into a stable network. (Oh, and it’ll also ease the pain of any chunky car payments you may have.)


BMW announced its i ChargeForward Program at the Consumer Electronics Show this week,
 the perfect time and place to introduce this new technology.  The BMW Group is partnering with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to roll out the pilot program to up to 100 BMW i3 drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Working with a select group of BMW i3 drivers, BMW i ChargeForward will demonstrate how intelligent management of electric vehicle charging can contribute to improved electric power grid efficiency while reducing total cost of electric vehicle ownership,” stated the car manufacturing conglomerate.


Participants of this program will work with the California utility to ensure a stable and steady flow of electricity to the grid, similar to a demand response program.  When the electric grid becomes overloaded, and PG&E is in need of supplemental energy, participants will be asked to delay charging their vehicle.  A text message will be sent alerting them that their vehicle will stop charging for one hour or less, depending on how critical the situation is.  The temporary suspension of charging these 100 electric vehicles translates into reduced load on the grid.  An anticipated 100 kilowatts of electric demand are expected to be available during an “event.”

Participation is not mandatory, but compensation will be based on performance.  Drivers will receive $1,000 in the beginning, and up to an additional $540 at the end of the program.


The pilot program will run from July 2015 to December 2016, and BMW will begin accepting applications mid-January.  Click here to sign up for a notification when the qualification survey becomes available.

So what do you think?  Would you participate in a program like this?  Is there enough incentive to participate?  Would you like to see added benefits?  Let us know in the comments section below.  We love to hear from our readers!

Photo Credit: BMW and Grid Stability/shutterstock

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 10, 2015

Any on demand dispatchable asset is pure gold to the utilities.  

When you multiply the number of electric vehicles by their potential kWh input to the grid, the number begins to undermine the entire 20th century version of the grid…….woops.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jan 10, 2015

There are also programs that incentivize behavior changes through paying users to charge at night.  Such TOU programs are particularly well suited to sites with night peaking generation such as Texas.  This blog post includes some helpful graphics to show the good fit with wind and night time EV charging in Texas.  Indiana is also using rates to incent shifting charge timing to peak generation time.

Utilities would like to have all of the chargers under their control.  I think a better approach is to use real time pricing and a bidding system like NASDAQ.  This could be automated and a variety of algorythms developed to make sure that the car owners needs are met.  For example, on algorythm might be to charge after midnight until battery is half charged.  Then only charge when the rates are below some number.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 10, 2015

Sarah, the American grid is one of the most stable on the planet, and for the money it’s hands-down the best value. Right now, I can use electricity any time I want. How is asking me to not use electricity, even if I might need it, more “stable”?

What’s being sold as a fix for (non-existent) grid instability is simply a shift of the utility’s responsibility for generation to the customer. All costs for these programs are borne by ratepayers so there’s no money saved. Who will bear the biggest burden (not with BMWs, but with Toyota Electric Corollas of the future) are poor people who desperately need the money.

For example: say a Toyota EV owner agrees to sacrifice an hour of charge time when his car is run down because he needs the money. Someone in his family is injured, but he can’t take them to the hospital because he’s sold his mobility to the utility? As a society, do we really want to create a tier of cheaper access for something as critical as electricity?

It never ceases to amaze me how successful renewables/distributed generation advocacy has become at hyping privatization as individual empowerment.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 10, 2015

Josh, how do EVs “input” power to the grid which the 20th-century version of it didn’t create in the first place?


Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 11, 2015

Wait what?

The 21st century version I allude to references velocity, efficiency, and level of distribution.  It’s not so much about which specific fuel source anymore, but where it is, how fast it can be used, and how centralized vs. de-centralized it is.

The economics of behind the meter battery storage systems changed the game in the last 6 months as much as solar PV and wind changed the game in the last 5 years.

Certain parts of California and Germany are ALREADY into 1st generation smart grid systems.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Jan 11, 2015

The economics of behind-the-meter battery storage are just as bad today as they ever have been. Nor will this pilot program (which is a one-way, demand response program) change that.

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 11, 2015

Just like how electric cars and solar panels could never work?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2015

Josh, if the 21st-century grid results in more carbon emissions and higher electricity prices like it has in Germany (highest prices in Europe behind Bas’s home country of the Netherlands), how exactly is that an improvement?

Promoting “level of distribution” on its own virtues is essentially saying, “I don’t like the idea of a big bad corporation making my power for me, I want to make it myself!” That’s fine, freedom of choice is a good thing. With that comes responsibility, and what distributed generation enthusiasts fail to include is the economic impact (which everyone in their country must bear) and the environmental impact (which everyone in the world must bear). If you’ve gone 100% off-grid, and use no fossil backup like diesel generation or propane, I commend you. Otherwise, you’re going to have to accept responsibility for the impact your rugged-individualist dream is having on everyone else.

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 11, 2015

The way you’re thinking about the problem is wrong from my point of view.  What I’m saying is that the profit to be made won’t be from generating electricity anymore.  The money to be made is going to be from how you distribute it and store it for maximum value.  

(This analogy is exactly the same as the ISP business.  The global community hasn’t built any new long haul fiber since ~2002 (This would be the large centralized generation capacity). it’s all about controlling that last mile (This would be storage / distributed generation).  The race is on to control the last mile of utilities.)

My point of view has changed multiple times in the past 18 months alone.  This is how fast the electric grid is moving.  It’s now moving at internet speed / Moore’s Law speed.  If your data and reasoning on these issues is even 6-12 months old, you’re already obsolete and behind.

Everything we’re talking about today would again be invalidated if the global community were to start making major interconnections at the continent level.  Every single economic point wouldn’t work anymore if say North America could trade electricity with Europe.  The entire economics of your entire electric grid could be predicated on storing electricity generated from 1000’s of miles away.


@Germany – Their CO2 increase is entirely from them choosing to shut down their funciontal nuclear reactors after Fukishima.  If they had kept their reactors online, they really wouldn’t need much coal at all.  Blame the CO2 increase on fear mongering, not solar power / batteries.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 11, 2015

100 kW is a drop in the bucket, amounting to a publicity stunt; I’ll bet that it’s a small fraction of the variability of regional grid demand over a period of 10 seconds.  This program would have much more punch if it tried to enroll all I3 drivers in the region.

Even if it got 100% participation, the net effect would be minor for some time.  Let’s consider a big scenario, with Tesla getting into it with both feet.  Average US grid demand is about 450 GW (peak is on the order of twice that).  If all 4 sites for Gigafactories are built and all crank out 50 GWh of battery packs per year, one year’s battery production would be able to supply the US grid for:

200 GWh / 450 GW = 1/2.25 hours = 1600 seconds = 26 minutes 40 seconds.

This is very clearly not going to be able to handle any major surpluses or deficits of power on the grid, no matter how much politicians and activists pretend that it will.

What it can do is provide major “ancillary servies” at low cost and with near-zero emissions.  AC Propulsion wrote a report on this almost a decade and a half ago, and AFAIK it is as pertinent today as it was when it was in its first draft.  If the EVs under demand management can be used for regulation and as “spinning reserve” by shutting down long enough for a gas-turbine plant to be brought up from cold (about 15 minutes for some of the newest units), more of the grid’s resources can be left off-line until they are actually needed.  Running units less, and running them closer to optimum when they’re on, will increase efficiency and reduce emissions and cost.

The sad part is that I see no emphasis on this in the promotions.  It must be too un-sexy, or just not eligible for the various subsidy programs.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2015

EP, first of all I’d like to say how much I appreciate your fact-based contributions, which make it easy to understand your point of view and on what it’s based.

Is your AC Propulsion link current? For some reason I get a timeout.

Using EVs as “spinning reserve” is theoretically possible, but I have doubts about whether it will be practical. There are many times during the day when I’ll top off the battery of my EV during the day to have enough energy to make a drive I know I’m going to have to make later on. Being at the whim of my utility for mobility would be unnerving (a point I made elsewhere). I suppose when battery capacities increase it will be less of an issue, but we’re still providing ancillary backup services which are more efficiently and cheaply accomodated at a centralized battery location.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 11, 2015

That’s a great point about where the electric industry profits will be generated.  Those profits tend to generate hype, and can have the consequence of increasing public support for subsidies or other market distorting policies that further increase profits for favored stakeholders.  

With all of the energy system “experiments” going on around the world, it is important that markets use profits to reward stakeholders that actually deliver the energy services that society needs, and delivers those services at a competitive price.  In many locations, the markets have evolved to direct the profits to renewable energy providers, which provide only a portion of the complete electricity service that society needs (electrical energy, slow load following, fast regulation, capacity reserves).  

The result of such changes is the risk that the complete electricity service could become very expensive, even while cheap power is available some of the time.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 11, 2015

The link goes to, and it’s working just fine for me.

I haven’t had a time when 15 minutes pause in charging would have greatly affected my driving, and I’ve got a PHEV with seriously limited AER (especially with cold batteries in the winter).  Worst case, I wait another 15 minutes.  If this was only called upon infrequently, I’d happily take a break on the price in return for it.  If my time to full charge was considerably longer than my time away from the vehicle, I wouldn’t even notice.

The potential for short-term modulation of the electric grid is quite large.  If we assume that the average EV can take charging power of 6.6 kW and the average PHEV 3.3 kW, the 600,000-some PEVs already in the USA can present a load of between 2 GW and 4 GW.  If we retrofitted chargers (like computer power supplies) to the existing HEV fleet to “top up” their batteries with grid power between trips, another 3+ million vehicles at perhaps 1 kW apiece is another 3+ GW of load (until they hit full charge).  If these loads were controlled for regulation purposes, they could saturate the market for regulation services (which I understand is about 1% of net load).

The potential for longer-term modulation to manage variable generation isn’t as good.  There was 45.2 GW of wind capacity on the US grid at the end of 2011, and much more than that today.  Even in the best case, 7 GW of EV chargers isn’t going to manage the variable output of 50+ GW of wind, plus another 2+ GW of PV.

we’re still providing ancillary backup services which are more efficiently and cheaply accomodated at a centralized battery location.

I think you’re wrong there.  Demand management is being spread all over the grid, and unless you need maximum charge ASAP there’s going to be no impact to you from e.g. varying the charger power a bit.  If you expected to be someplace for 8 hours (e.g. work) and the charger could bring the vehicle up to full in 2.5, letting the utility ramp the charger down for a while (esp. after your minimum charge requirement has been met) would have no impact on you at all.  Eliminating the central battery while providing the same services, and perhaps superior services due to distributed provision of things like reactive power, is almost the definition of efficiency.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2015

EP, still down. Do you have protected access to that URL?


A bank I recently left started charging a service fee for making check deposits at the window. They had added optical character recognition at their ATMs, which was supposed to make everything more convenient for me, but didn’t work very well and took twice as long.

The reason it didn’t work was because the bank thought adding complexity had to be an improvement. Instead, it resulted in simplistic assumptions about the infinite possibilities involved in something as simple as handwriting. Ultimately, it ended up shifting convenience from me to the bank – now they didn’t have to train someone to know how to make a simple deposit.

Kind of like stability and utilities.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jan 11, 2015

Thanks for the link.  I downloaded it, looks like an interesting read.

Regarding storage:  If there were the equivalent of 4 Gigafactories churning out batteries, we would see 5x your scenario in 5 years.  There are other assets feeding the grid so that the storage would never be called on for its full capacity since there are a variety of sources such as hydro and nuclear feeding the grid in the forseable future.  That pushes things out to close to 5 hours under some sort of very unusual circumstance. 




Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 11, 2015

I’m having no difficulty with the link.  I suggest you check your anti-virus blocklists, and if that fails call your ISP and see if they’re blocking it.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2015

EP, working now, thanks. is a good tool to see if the problem is local (the site was down for them too).

You might have been bringing up a cached version on your computer.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 12, 2015


Just to help with visualisation, how many cars would 50GWh of batteries support?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 12, 2015


  • 590, 000 Tesla P85’s.
  • 2 million Nissan Leafs.
  • 3 million Chevy Volts.
  • 6.7 million CMAX/Fusion Energis.

Four such factories running flat-out would supply enough batteries to make every new vehicle sold in the USA into a PHEV of roughly Volt-class.


Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Jan 12, 2015


If you have actual information on how behind-the-meter batteries have “changed the game”, I’m happy to listen. But if all you have is strawman arguments, you’ve got nothing.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jan 12, 2015

Tesla has stated that the Giga Factory is designed to support the production of 500,000 cars.  This suggests that they are shooting for considerably higher than 200 mile range as the standard.  This translates to 100kwhr batteries.

Leafs currently have 24 kwhr batteries and have range a little under 100 miles.  They claim that they will soon introduce a vehicle with double the range.

Reading the tea leaves I think it is safe to assume that when looking out in the 5 – 15 year time frame the assumption of 100kwhr batteries as the standard unit for an EV is pretty safe when one is doing calculations to assess the grid support potential.

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